I recently had a long weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon with my partner so thought I would document my adventures – primarily because I’m a nightmare foodie. I will only eat where I know the food is homemade, cooked from scratch, free range eggs, high-welfare meat etc. Chains don’t come into the equation & sometimes even when somewhere says the food is homemade it doesn’t always live up to expectations & questions aren’t answered by looking at the menu.
All in all, Stratford is fairly good for foodies. There is no shortage of independent coffee shops boasting homemade cakes & scones & if you want to go down the chef chain route they have a Carluccios & a restaurant owned by Marco Pierre White.
We were only there for 2 nights with dinner being inclueded at the hotel on the first night, so we only had to seek out a few meals & snacks along the way.
Lunch Day 1 – late lunch required & had been advised that Sheep Street had the best restaurants for dinner, so seemed a good place to look for somewhere for lunch. There are quite a number of tea & coffee shops on Sheep Street including a forties themed tea shop, but there were queues out of the door for that one, so we chose one across the road who were advertising homemade quiches, cheesecakes, scones etc., called No 37 (https://www.facebook.com/no37cafe). The chalkboard menus also mentioned things like free range eggs, which looked very encouraging.
We sat in the lovely, sunny courtyard out the back & there were lots of lovely cheeses, salamis etc., on the menu. Karl, being very predictable, chose the 1/2 sandwich with cream tea option. I chose the chicken & chorizo quiche, which came with salad & homemade coleslaw. Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat the coleslaw – even though it was homemade, I have an intolerance to shop-bought mayo, which it was made with. Just goes to show homemade doesn’t necessarily mean cooked from scratch – there can still be shop-bought products used to make the dish. The pastry on the quiche was nice & crispy (but had no way of knowing if the pastry was homemade or shop-bought) and the quiche itself was tasty – but it would be difficult for it not to be as it contained the very flavoursome chorizo. All in all, it had a thumbs up & the coffee shop itself was very pleasant with friendly staff – they obviously took pride in the food they produced. Having said that, one thing I did note was how they made the quiches to make it quick & easy for a catering environment. It looked to me like they make the milk, eggs, cheese filling for each quiche, fill them & then place small bits of the required toppings on each of them as opposed to within the quiche itself. I suppose it makes sense when you’re doing a number every day.
So, choice number 1 was pretty successful – big sigh of relief from Karl.
It was probably around mid afternoon when we had lunch & checked into the hotel afterwards, The Stratford Manor, (http://www.qhotels.co.uk/our-locations/stratford-manor/?gclid=CM6t-5OkscACFdLKtAodEiAAwA) – by this time we could only get the 8.30pm slot for dinner. I did feel sorry for Karl at this point as we’ve been eating very late at home recently due to me cooking for the business in the evenings, so his hopes of an early dinner were very quickly dashed.
Dinner Day 1 – By the time 8.30pm arrived we were both aboslutely starving & could have eaten a chair leg. I’d gathered from the menu & website that the food was cooked mostly from scatch by the numerous chefs in the kitchen, but there was no real indication on the menu with regard provenance, welfare etc., so I was going to have to choose quite carefully.
As luck would have it, they appeared to be having a bit of a nightmare in the kitchen – the serving staff were floating about being mega efficient & courteous to customers, but looking around there seemed to be quite a lot of unrest with regards the food. Oh dear! As luck would have it & as hungry as we were, we didn’t get our starter until 9.20pm – there had been a mix up in the kitchen with the order of the orders (it’s always us). Karl had the ham terrine, which he thoroughly enjoyed (but by then I think anything would have tasted good) & I had the soup as it was homemade, which was good – not great, but good – it lacked some flavour.
We then had quite a long wait for the main course – Karl had chosen the half Piri Piri chicken & I chose the braised duck legs. Karl tucked into his chicken, quickly devouring the parts he likes the least first – the legs & wings. I started on my veggies & then moved onto the duck – which was just warm – nowhere near hot enough, which can be dangerous with poultry. So, I had to let them know & it was taken back with the promise of a new one to come out – the waitress then came back & asked Karl if they wanted his to go back in too, so that we could both eat together. He agreed but said ‘don’t put anymore food on the plate though’. They eventually arrived back – Karl’s complete with a full serving even though he’d eaten his least favourite bits already & mine now piping hot, but missing the courgettes & french beans that had been present on the original – but I wasn’t going to complain again. Similar to the starter it was ok – again lacked some flavour but was ok.
Dessert though was a success – I had homemade cheesecake (can’t really go wrong with that) & Karl had 4 different scoops of ice cream (that always keeps him happy).
So, meal number 2 was certainly eventful. What I will say, was despite whatever was happening in the kitchen (there were lots of people complaining) the staff were fantastic – very professional, very efficient.
Breakfast Day 2 – The usual buffet style offered by chain hotels, trying to cater for as many tastes as possible but not really doing anything very well. One of my bug bears is the fruit offered by nearly all the hotels at breakfast – it’s very rarely seasonal or even British – and here was no exception. The menu actually said ‘seasonal fruit’ – melon, pineapple, orange, pink grapefruit – August in the UK – really?!!! So that wasn’t a good start. But, if I could have some fruit juice, fruit & natural yoghurt that would be ok. The bacon, sausages etc., certainly didn’t look very appetising.
I asked one of the staff if the fruit juice was pure fruit juice or fruit juice drink (which is full of sugar & other stuff) – it was fruit juice drink, so that was out. I asked if the eggs were free range – she went off to the kitchen & came back with the classic reply ‘chef informs me that we’ve recently changed our supplier & at the moment they are caged’. This I find irritating to say the least – big chain hotels can’t afford free range eggs? Especially when they’re not even as prominent in the supermarkets now?
So, breakfast was what was left of the fruit, natural yoghurt & honey (which was local – yah!).
Elevenses Day 2 – when at home, my morning coffee is always a very strong latte, made a specific way to kickstart me into the day. In the hotel it was just the pot of coffee with a small jug of milk, so I would need my real coffee sustenance at some point that morning. After a couple of hours walking, I was also rather hungry after such a small breakfast.
Walking along the river we came across the Riverside Tea Garden (http://www.riverside-tea-garden.co.uk/) with blackboards boasting homemade scones coming out of the oven at 10.30am. Mmmm, I thought – that sounds nice – a homemade scone with a good cup of coffee. So, I ordered a scone with butter (that’s what it said on the menu) & a latte. Out it came with the obligatory catering carton of cheap jam & lo and behold, a little carton of the spreadable muck that pretends to be butter. Took a sip of the coffee & it wasn’t real coffee – it had that sweetness that only comes from the yucky sachet stuff. So, I wasn’t happy – decided to ask for some real butter & was told that was all they had. Now, if the owner had made some attempt at trying to find me some butter (perhaps what she used for baking) or looked surprised when I said that what she’d given me wasn’t butter, perhaps I wouldn’t have then suggested she amend her menu as she was misleading customers. She very sarkily said ‘I’ll bear that in mind” – obviously didn’t give a s*** what her customers thought. She had a prime spot by the river & could rip people off right, left & centre.
Why do people who don’t care about food go into the food business? One of life’s mysteries. So, I wasn’t a happy bunny – all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee. Even Karl left the coffee so it must have been bad.
Lunch Day 2 – we walked some more & amongst the many, many coffee shops we came across a blackboard advertising a 70’s themed coffee shop with homemade dishes prepared by Claire – The Courtyard Cafe. Same name as me, homemade fayre & a 70’s theme, so we decided to give it a go (http://www.restaurantsinstratford.co.uk/the-restaurants/the-courtyard-cafe/#.U_yxYGOukp4).
It was a bit of fun as the menu headings were themed around 70’s hits & there were cuttings of old magazines etc., on the table tops, memorabilia etc. The dishes were very 70’s too. I’m afraid I can’t remember what Karl had, but I opted for quiche again – this time stilton. Again, I couldn’t eat the homemade coleslaw as it had been bound together with shop-bought mayo. The quiche was probably very nice, but unfortunately, it had been reheatedi in the microwave, which is the kiss of death for a quiche. The pastry goes soft & somehow or another it impairs the flavour. Now, I’m all for using microwaves for certain things, but reheating quiche certainly isn’t one of them. The food would have been fine but for that.
Dinner Day 2 – when we’d first arrived in Stratford, we parked on the outskirts & walked in along the river. We got chatting to a local in the car park who had advised that the best restaurants were in Sheep Street, particularly ‘Lamb’s of Sheep Street’ (http://www.lambsrestaurant.co.uk/). So, we’d checked the menu & the opening times earlier & got ourselves along there fairly early on the Sunday night. At last – this looked like the type of food I want to eat in lovely surroundings & I was right. We had a fabulous meal & chose from the set price menu as it was fairly early on the Sunday evening – so not only was the food great it was good value too.
Karl had Roasted Yellow Pepper soup, Swordfish & Hazelnut Parfait.
I had Chicken Liver Pate, Swordfish & Summer Fruits Jelly with Elderflower Ice Cream.
All homemade, cooked from scratch, using high quality ingredients.
At last, a perfect meal in Stratford :). Lamb’s of Sheep Street comes highly recommended.
So, a mixed bag, but Stratford is certainly somewhere I would recommend for foodies to pay a visit – just be careful where you go.